News      |      Events

HEVC is for OTT but not yet Ultra HD

HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) has been one of the big stories of 2013 so far. Likely to become best known as H.265, HEVC has been seized upon as the enabler for Ultra HD and more immediately as the salvation for smart TVs accessing content over the Web. Along with Ultra HD and Web-connected TV, the third big use case for HEVC is mobile video, where by doubling the efficiency of H.264 it will allow users to download files for subsequent viewing in half the time while also improving the quality of streamed content. This enables twice as much video to be stored in the device’s limited memory, and crucially will reduce the processing load on the CPU and the drain on the battery. By improving all these measures by a factor of two with scope for further improvement, HEVC will be compelling for mobile video, and this is where it will make its first impact this year.

The major vendors in this space are ready to roll. Meanwhile, the same vendors that are embracing HEVC for smart TV also argue that it will provide the spark that ignites Ultra HD right across the ecosystem from production through contribution, distribution to the end device. Well perhaps it will, but not just yet. It is worth noting that H.264 has only recently been deployed widely in the broadcast chain, now increasingly for contribution as well as distribution. There is still even life left in MPEG-2 for broadcasting and pay TV, while the latest digital terrestrial standards, such as the DVB-T2 currently being widely deployed in Europe, is aligned with H.264/MPEG-4.

It is true that HEVC has been developed with Ultra HD in mind, at any rate the 4K version currently being hyped, at 3840 x 2160 resolution. For example, some companies have demonstrated devices that encode video at 3840 x 2160p, at an average bit rate of 15Mb/s. But this is very much aimed at trials at this stage, and given the steps involved, it is unlikely that we will see 4K widely deployed for streamed broadcast services until at least 2016 and probably a year or two later. We will have to wait almost as long as that for HEVC to enter the broadcast chain, but it will make a much faster impact for mobile video.

(Broadcast Engineering)